Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing Goals

Writing goals are good to put into place. They give a writer something to aim for and something to weigh progress against. Goals will vary from one writer to another, and they will likely change over time.

Goals should follow the old standard of being specific and measurable, preferably with a timeline. “I’d like to write more,” is not a goal (too vague, no timeline). “I’d like to write 2,000 words a week,” is a goal. “I’d like to complete a new short story every quarter,” is a goal.

One flaw I’ve made in the past was to set a goal that met the criteria I mentioned but was dependent upon circumstances outside of my control. For example, I once had a goal of “selling a story to a semi-pro magazine this year.” Unfortunately, all I can do is write stories and submit them. I don’t have control of whether or not a story is accepted for publication. Certainly, there are things I can do to increase my chances, but I have no way to guarantee publication.

If it’s outside of my control, it is not a goal. That isn’t to say that I can’t have aspirations for things outside of my control, such as certain types of publications, etc. But if I lose focus and think that I am somehow responsible for bringing such things into fruition, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or feel ashamed.

What I can do is to give myself the opportunity to reach my aspirations by breaking the achievable components down into goals. Suppose I have an aspiration of a published novel. I should not set that as my goal. Instead, I set goals of completing a rough draft by a certain date (which may in turn break down into weekly goals for how many words I write), completing subsequent drafts by certain dates, finding a specific number of agents to query and submitting to those agents by certain timelines. Or perhaps I will set a goal of querying publishers directly (for those who accept unsolicited submissions). At the end of the process, I may not have a book published, but I can at least know that I accomplished my goals, and I’ve given myself the opportunity for reaching my aspiration. Without a rough draft, I have no subsequent drafts. Without a finished novel, there’s nothing to publish. Without querying agents or publishing houses, I can’t get a contract.

If you haven’t tried setting goals lately (or ever), try it for a few months to see how it affects your writing. You might be surprised by how goals motivate you.

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